Marichal, Juan Antonio

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MARICHAL, Juan Antonio

(b. 24 October 1937 in Laguna Verde, Montecristi, Dominican Republic), Hall of Fame National League (NL) pitcher, known for his high-kick delivery and impeccable control, who won twenty games in each of six different seasons during the 1960s with a blazing fastball and a baffling variety of breaking pitches.

As a child in the fishing village of Laguna Verde, right-handed Marichal threw rocks at oranges and pineapples until he could hit the fruit with few misses. At the age of nine he made his first baseball out of rubber bands, stocking thread, and tape. Soon he was playing for his school team. Marichal began as a shortstop but blossomed into a rifle-armed pitcher. He credits his brother Gonzolo, a former semiprofessional player, with teaching him the curveball. He also studied baseball books that contained pictures of famous pitchers.

By the time he was sixteen, Marichal was paid $18 a week by the United Fruit Company to play for its semi-professional club at the nearby port of Manzanillo. After pitching a 2–0 shutout of the powerful Dominican Air Force team, run by the son of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, Trujillo was so impressed that Marichal was drafted into the Air Force so his services as a baseball player could be secured. He pitched for the Air Force in the Pan-American World Series in Mexico City and left the team a highly polished pitcher.

On 20 October 1957 the San Francisco Giants scout Alex Pompez signed Marichal to a $500 bonus contract. When the Giants farm director Carl Hubbell saw the new recruit in spring training, he gave instructions not to tamper with Marichal's catapult delivery. What Hubbell saw was a style that was eye-catching, graceful, and pure. Marichal delivered the ball from a high kick in which he reared back on his right foot and kicked the left skyward. It looked, said one observer, "like he had one continuous leg, with a spiked shoe on either end." Sometimes Marichal's kick was so high that his pitching hand nearly grazed the dirt on the pitching mound. Not since the debut of the Cleveland Indians Bob Feller in 1936 had anyone seen such a form.

Of medium build, standing only five feet, eleven inches tall, and weighing less than 190 pounds, Marichal was able to generate overpowering speed from his high kicking motion. He threw overhand, three-quarters, and sidearm. In addition to his fastball, Marichal presented an effective array of curves, sliders, screwballs, and change-ups, and possessed pinpoint control of all of them. This stylish delivery and high leg kick earned him the nickname the "Dominican Dandy." Marichal eventually struck out more than 200 batters in each of 6 major-league seasons and never allowed more than 90 walks per season. The home run king, Hank Aaron, remarked that Marichal could "throw all day within a two-inch space, in and out, up or down. I've never seen anyone as good as Juan."

In 1958, with Michigan City of the Class D Midwest League, Marichal was spectacular, winning 21 games while losing just 8. He led the league with a 1.87 earned run average (ERA) and struck out 246 batters. At Class A Springfield in 1959, Marichal dominated the Eastern League with 18 wins, a 2.39 ERA, and 208 strikeouts. By the 1960 season he was at Tacoma in the Pacific Coast League, where he won 11 games before being called up to San Francisco in midseason to play for the Giants.

Marichal's major-league debut is legendary. On 19 July 1960 he held the Phillies hitless for 72/3 innings and struck out 12 batters in a one-hit, 2–0 victory. He finished the season with 5 more wins and won 13 more in 1961.

Marichal emerged as a star in 1962 with 18 wins as he helped pitch the Giants into the World Series. In 1963 he began the first of six 20-win seasons with a 25–8 record and a 2.41 ERA. The next three years he had records of 21–8, 22–13, and 25–6 (leading the league with 10 shutouts in 1965). Injured in 1967, he won 14 games, but returned to form in 1968 with a 26–9 record and 21–11 in 1969.

Marichal pitched the best game of his career on 15 June 1963—an 89-pitch no-hitter against the Houston Colt .45s—in front of the home crowd in Candlestick Park. That season also saw one of the greatest pitching duels of all time, in which Marichal defeated Warren Spahn and the Milwaukee Braves 1–0 in 16 innings, during which he allowed only 8 hits.

For Marichal, 1965 was a fateful season. After a shutout performance, he was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the All-Star game. The Giants were in a tight pennant fight with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, when on 22 August Marichal faced Sandy Koufax in a game at Candlestick Park. Responding to earlier provocations, Marichal brushed back Dodgers hitters Maury Wills and Ron Fairly. When Marichal came to the plate, he expected Koufax to retaliate. Instead, catcher John Roseboro fired his return throw past Marichal's ear, and words ensued. Roseboro ripped off his mask and stood up, and Marichal hit Roseboro squarely over the head with his bat, sparking a fourteen-minute brawl. It was one of the most brutal moments in baseball history. Marichal was fined $1,750 and suspended for eight days. Roseboro sued Marichal, agreeing to a $7,500 cash settlement in 1970. The two combatants later became friends. For Marichal, who was normally mild mannered, the incident cast a shadow over the rest of his baseball career.

During the 1960s Marichal was as good a pitcher as there was in baseball, with 191 wins in the decade. By 1969 he had set a NL record for highest lifetime winning percentage. Marichal was the first NL right-hander since Grover Cleveland Alexander to win twenty-five or more games three times. However, he was denied a Cy Young award due to the preeminence of Sandy Koufax, his Dodgers mound rival. Phillies slugger Richie Allen said that "even when Koufax was around, I thought Marichal was the best. Koufax was a thrower. Marichal is a pitcher. With Marichal, he's got five pitches, and he can bring them all in." The pitching-rich decade also pitted Marichal against Cardinals great Bob Gibson, who won the Cy Young award in 1968 on the strength of his 1.12 ERA, and the Mets Tom Seaver, who won 25 games in 1969, the year Marichal won the ERA title at 2.10.

Chronic arthritis and a back injury hampered Marichal in 1970, limiting him to a 12–10 record. He rebounded in 1971 to win eighteen games, including the division title clincher on the last night of the season. The back problems, however, limited his effectiveness for the next two seasons. In 1974 he was traded to the Boston Red Sox and won five games as a spot starter. Signing with the Dodgers in 1975, Marichal was ineffective in two starts and retired. That same year, the Giants retired his number 27.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983, Marichal was named to nine All-Star teams, compiling a 2–0 record and an 0.50 ERA. His lifetime ERA is 2.89, with 244 complete games and 52 career shutouts. Marichal's record of 243 career wins stood as most victories by a Latin American pitcher until broken by Dennis Martinez of the Atlanta Braves in 1998. He was also the first Latin American pitcher to record a no-hitter. Marichal ranks with Christy Mathewson and Carl Hubbell in the pantheon of Giants pitching immortals.

Marichal returned to the Dominican Republic immediately upon retirement. A revered figure in his homeland, he is minister of sports. He married Alma Rosa Carnaval in March 1962. They have six children.

Biographies of Marichal include his own A Pitcher ' s Story (1967), written with Charles Einstein, and John Devaney, Juan Marichal, Mister Strike (1970). Chapters on Marichal may be found in Maury Allen, Baseball 100: A Personal Ranking of the Best Players in Baseball History (1981), and Donald Honig, The Greatest Pitchers of All Time (1988). A detailed portrait of Marichal is in Al Stump, "Juan Marichal: Behind His Success," Sport (Sept. 1964). Robert H. Boyle, "The Latin Storm Las Grandes Ligas," Sports Illustrated (9 Aug. 1965), contains an excellent analysis of the impact of Latin American ball players. Nine top hitters discuss Marichal in Jack Zanger, "From 9 Top Batters: A Unique View of Juan Marichal," Sport (Sept. 1967).

Douglas E. Collar

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